Old wisdom holds that it isn’t the destination that matters, but the journey, and no game better embodies this attitude than Spelunky.
Spelunky is about running, jumping, and exploring your way through a mysterious cavern, taking lots of inspiration from one whip-wielding archaeologist in particular. Most games of the running-jumping ilk are obsessed with forward progression—if you miss a step and plummet to your doom, you find yourself on the edge of the same crevice as before. Joyous daredevil leaps become simple, dull repetition.
But Spelunky never repeats itself. The real hero of the game isn’t the stubbled cartoon adventurer, it’s the game’s environment, which gives you an ever-changing world and the chance to do things differently. Every time you die in Spelunky, you start back at the beginning, whole and healthy—except that everything’s changed. The monsters aren’t where you remember them, the cliffs and ledges have all changed. Death doesn’t punish the player so much as offer them a new playground to explore, and there’s always more to discover. Maybe this time you’ll save up for a jetpack! Or some boots with springs on the bottom!
Several times, I thought I had seen all that Spelunky had to offer, that no matter how many new levels it created for me to hop around, I was just seeing a rehash of elements that had grown familiar. Over and over, the game proved me wrong. What happens when you pick up the golden idol? Don’t you wonder what that bloody altar would do if you put someone on it? These are questions you too may one day burn to answer.
Playing with a family member makes the game more interesting and less frustrating than it can be when played alone. Misjudging a jump and landing in a spike pit no longer means game over. Instead, you turn into a little Casper-like ghost. You can’t interact much with the physical world, but you can fly through walls, activate traps and blow stuff off ledges for your flesh-and-blood partner to pick up. There are also coffins in which you can find a brand-new body, allowing you to get back to work.
Spelunky is a rags-to-riches sort of success story. It began life as a humble bit of free software and achieved such popularity that it was remastered for practically every modern console available. It’s not hard to see why Spelunky became the darling of the indie movement: it’s packed with character, it’s finely tuned, and it always seems to have something new to offer.